When it comes to chic simplicity, nobody does it better than Phoebe Philo, saviour of French fashion house Céline. Best known for making the camel coat the staple of wardrobes worldwide, Philo's latest collection once again demonstrates a true understanding of the female form. The emphasis was placed on silhouette - pencil skirts with kick-hems were teamed with oversized coats with a subtle curve, creating an aesthetic that was slightly experimental yet undeniably feminine. Philo also dipped into the realm of print on a few occasion, creating what was arguably the highlight of the show - a painterly take on a polka-dot print, the inky smears of black livened up a beautifully-tailored white coat and added interest to an A-line skirt and ankle boots. Overall, the collection was no departure from the brand's signature aesthetic but subtle nods of progression (latex leggings, tartan prints) hinted that Philo is now relaxed enough in her role to begin to take risks.
Although many play with proportions, few take such a hyperbolic stance on silhouette as Rick Owens - from their frizzy blow-dried hair to their gargantuan leather boots, the models on Rick Owens' catwalk looked unmistakably formidable. The clothes themselves were equally menacing with huge oversized sleeves, fur shawls and mohair knits in a monochrome palette being the main focus. However, there were other influences thrown in - Owens presented an interesting take on the oriental trend by using weaving technique and stiff obi belts to create a modern version of the traditional kimono, and towards the end of the collection the mood softened for a series of silk evening gowns that represented a symbolic light at the end of the darkness.
ANN DEMEULEMEESTER As arguably the most successful members of the renowned Antwerp Six (that is if we don't count Margiela), Ann Demeulemeester has been pushing the boundaries of fashion for over twenty years, choosing to forego the decadence of other notable fashion brands in favour of her own muted aesthetic. In this collection in particular there was a sense of conflicted identity - is the Demeulemeester woman a warrior or a damsel? The ethereality of certain looks was always contrasted by a shock of black leather or heavy, menacing boots - the feather-pinned top hats gave the impression of a tribal theme, whereas elsewhere the delicate drapery of black and white cotton referenced a more subversive, feminine aesthetic. The beauty of Demeulemeester's work is that it is truly thought-provoking - by including subtle references to a number of cultures she avoids being pigeon-holed and pulls off the difficult task of creating an almost entirely monochrome collection that cannot be accused of repeating itself.
GIAMBATTISTA VALLI In terms of luxury brands, few do it better than Giambattista Valli. Boasting a celebrity following including the likes of Victoria Beckham, Valli knows the benefit of paying attention to detail - using subtly-embossed fabrics and keeping his embellishment to a minimum takes a collection that is simple in concept and high in quality. The show began with cream parkas and sleek fur gilets which, when teamed with chiffon dresses and high heels proved that functionality and fashion can go hand-in-hand. Valli soon moved into more extravagant territory, showing a series of looks in a beautiful metallic chain-mail that was reminiscent of Chanel in its finest hour. Cobweb jumpers, fur coats and animal print were all staples of the Valli wardrobe, whereas a series of three striking crimson looks dispelled the myth that bold colour should be consigned to separates. For a collection that incorporated so many different elements, it's extremely impressive that Valli rarely put a foot wrong - by keeping customisation simple (for example, strips of dyed-white fur gave a fresh twist on the traditional cocktail dress) and keeping silhouettes classic and feminine, Valli has ensured that every trend he has touched has turned to gold.
The final highlight of the week came courtesy of Sarah Burton, who provided one of the most breathtaking collections of the entire season. Many argued that nobody would be able to match the mastery of the late Alexander McQueen, but Burton continues to prove critics wrong by moving effortlessly from one beautiful collection to another. Burton's aesthetic is, overall, a lot softer than McQueen's - although the dramatic waspish waistlines of the McQueen silhouette are still present, as are the religious references that Lee favoured so strongly, there is a delicacy to Burton's collections that show the touch of a woman. Presenting only ten looks, Burton opted for a "presentation" as opposed to a traditional runway show, sending out models in a series of pairs and allowing maximum time for the carefully-selected crowd to marvel at the immaculate detail on display. The other benefit of presenting such a streamlined collection was that the level of intricacy was more befitting of a couture collection - layers of laser-cut lace were interspersed with hand-studded leather and gold leaf. Victorian ruffs and oversized cloaks provided a touch of drama, whereas the bejewelled cages that shrouded the models' faces represented the restriction of instutionalised religion. High drama, exquisite detail and a provocative concept - if there were ever doubt that Burton wasn't deserving of the role, this collection should serve to eliminate it.